Doctor’s Tip: Broccoli can help with autism symptoms |

Doctor’s Tip: Broccoli can help with autism symptoms

Dr. Greg Feinsinger
Doctor’s Tip

Autism is defined as “a complex neurologic and developmental disorder that affects how a person acts, communicates, learns and interacts with others.” It’s more common in boys, 1½% of American children are diagnosed with it, and the incidence appears to be increasing.

Scientists don’t know exactly what causes autism, but according to Dr. Greger in a recent video on, this much is known:

• When autistic children develop a fever, the symptoms disappear as long as the fever lasts. This is thought to be due to “heat shock proteins” that are released by the brain when body temperature rises. These proteins improve the synaptic transmission from one brain cell to the next, which is abnormal in autism.

• The brain is vulnerable to harmful oxidation, and excessive oxidation is present in the brains of autistic children.

• The power centers of cells, called mitochondria, are dysfunctional in autistic children.

• Autistic kids have excessive brain inflammation.

Currently there are no medications that help autism. However, there is a group of plant foods that help: cruciferous vegetables, which include cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, arugula, collard greens, mustard greens, radish, turnip greens and watercress. Broccoli sprouts in particular have been shown to increase heat shock proteins and improve synaptic function in the brain; increase Nrf2, the master regulator of antioxidant production in the body; restore metabolic balance to mitochondria in cells; and reduce brain inflammation.

A group of autistic kids was studied. Half were given placebo capsules and the other half similar-looking capsules containing broccoli sprouts. At the end of the study, the placebo group showed no improvement in symptoms but the sprout group demonstrated significant improvement. Why sprouts? Because sprouts have 10 times the micronutrients as mature broccoli.

The compound in cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, that causes improvement in autism is sulforaphane. Cruciferous vegetables contain a precursor, and conversion to sulforaphane requires an enzyme called myrosinase, which is destroyed by cooking. Therefore, cruciferous vegetables should be eaten raw, or, if cooked, one of the following three strategies can be used: 1) Eat some raw cruciferous vegetable before eating the cooked. 2) Chop up the cruciferous vegetables at least 40 minutes before you cook them, which allows the enzyme to release the sulforaphane. 3) Eat the cooked cruciferous vegetables with a raw one such as horse radish, wasabi or mustard.

Interestingly, broccoli in powder or supplement form isn’t effective. As is so often the case, only the whole plant food works.

Bottom line: If you have a child with autism, consider giving him or her one to three cups (depending on age and size) of broccoli sprouts every day. And we should all be eating cruciferous vegetables every day for other reasons: prevention of several kinds of cancer; brain protection; preservation of eyesight; reduction of inflammation; reduction of allergies; and management of type 2 diabetes.

Greg Feinsinger, M.D., is a retired family physician with a special interest in heart disease and diabetes prevention and reversal, ideally through lifestyle changes. He’s available for free, one-hour consultations — call 970-379-5718.


Dr. Feinsinger is offering 1½ hour grocery store shopping sessions where he shows how to make healthy food choices. By appointment; call 379-5718.

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